People sometimes ask me how I come up with the inspiration for these columns – whether I begin with the beer or with a dish. The answer is: haphazardly, and the order of operations tends to vary month by month. In this case, I began with the beer.
Duration Brewing’s Promise of Spring “Norfolk Witbier” is a 5% dream of a wheat beer, which drinks dry and clean and has only a minimal ester profile. It felt like the right thing for the seasonal transition: an optimistic omen of warm and sunny days ahead, of the end of a dreary, gloomy winter. This food-friendly beer, made with orange peel, coriander and local blossoms, is tremendously versatile and could work with so many things. Should I pair it with fresh seafood? Lemony pasta? Something bright and herbaceous?
I don’t have to tell you that spring’s promise has since dimmed, and – to paraphrase a recent tweet I stumbled upon – good old Pandora seems to have found another box. And so I picked a recipe that to me telegraphs pure comfort: pad Thai with crispy tofu.
Pad Thai is my go-to takeaway order, which is another way of saying that it’s the food I crave when I’m tired, or a little under the weather, or absent of motivation and in need of cheering-up.
It has it all: comforting carbs, fish sauce funk, a hint of sweetness and spice, crunchy peanuts, yellow ribbons of egg. It can feature any protein you choose – go with chicken or prawns if that’s your style – but I find tofu adds a pleasing textural contrast, a bit of crunch and then a yielding chew.
Lest I spend a fortune on Deliveroo, a probable quarantine seemed like the right time to make it myself for a change, and so I took inspiration from Smitten Kitchen’s essential, superlative recipe. Here is the result: moreish, doubled so you can put away leftovers for a few days, best eaten on the sofa under a weighted blanket, and in the company of some gentle TV.
Pad Thai with Crispy Tofu
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
375g rice sticks
340g extra-firm tofu (not silken)
120ml tamarind water (3 parts tamarind concentrate to 1 part water)
120ml fish sauce
120g dark brown or palm sugar
2-3 tablespoons sriracha
3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Sea salt, to taste
1 large échalion (banana) shallot, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 large eggs
2 large handfuls bean sprouts, divided
100g salted, roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1. First, place the rice sticks in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Leave for 30 minutes and up to 1 hour, or until softened. Drain.
2. Drain the tofu and pat to dry. Wrap in paper towels and put a heavy plate or saucepan on top of the tofu to press out extra moisture. Leave for at least 30 minutes.
3. Make the pad Thai sauce: mix together the tamarind water, fish sauce, sugar and sriracha, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Taste and adjust the seasoning if you think it needs any more acidity, salt, sweetness or spice. Set aside.
4. Once the tofu has been pressed, remove from the paper towels and cut into 1-inch cubes. In a wok or large, tall-sided frying pan, add 1–2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and place over high heat. Add the tofu (in two batches, if necessary) and cook, turning frequently, until golden-brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate and season lightly with salt.
5. To your wok or frying pan, add 1–2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and place over high heat. Once hot, add the chopped shallots and garlic and cook for roughly 1 minute, or until just golden. Add the drained rice sticks and the sauce. Cook for roughly 10 minutes, tossing with tongs frequently, or until the rice noodles are perfectly al dente and have absorbed the sauce. If the noodles are still too firm when bitten, add small splashes of water and cook, tossing frequently, until al dente. Add half the bean sprouts and toss to mix.
6. Push the noodles to the sides of the wok and crack your eggs into the centre; they should start cooking immediately. Scramble and toss with the noodles until evenly mixed in.
7. Transfer to your serving plates, and top with the chopped peanuts and the remaining bean sprouts. Squeeze a good amount of lime juice over each plate right before serving.
Claire M Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our award-winning first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen. Get a bottle of Braybrooke’s amazing collab with Donzoko while you can, or try Braybrooke’s Keller Lager if it's sold out again...